I remember reading a haiku which I thought was by Sei Shonagon (I think I read it in Will and Ariel Durant's "Our Oriental Heritage" volume, in Greek, a long time ago. It was about losing a child, and it went something like

How far the young hunter had to go today to gather his butterflies

but I cannot find it by reasonable searching. Does it ring a bell? Was it Shonagon? Was it maybe Izumi Shikibu? (I do not think it was Murasaki Shikibu.)

I'd be most obliged, this is for an acquaintance that has lost an 8-yr old child (not that any haiku would make any difference to somehting like that).

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    not an answer to your question, but kobayashi issa has many great haiku that could be appropriate at a time a grieving. there is a haiku of his i like which is translated as "this world of dew is a world of dew, and yet,... and yet,..." that is said to have been written at the time of his daughter's death.
    – A.Ellett
    Commented Mar 8, 2016 at 5:52
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    Haiku didn't exist yet at the times Sei Shonagon or Izumi Shikibu was living, I believe. Commented Mar 8, 2016 at 9:50
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    I found the (deemed) full text of Our Oriental Heritage. Where in the volume do you think it should be? Commented Mar 8, 2016 at 12:38
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    ↑↑↑↑↑↑↑ this appears to be the relevant section from @broccoliforest's link. How long I spent looking for things about butterflies and it was dragon-flies lol.
    – Robin
    Commented Mar 8, 2016 at 13:12
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    Good research! How far had I to go to hunt my butterfiles as well! Commented Mar 8, 2016 at 13:32

1 Answer 1


I finally found it thanks to @broccoli forest's link in the comments.

The book says:

And when the Lady Kaga no Chiyo lost her husband she wrote, merely:

All things that seem Are but

One dreamer's dream

I sleep 1 wake

How wide

The bed with none beside."

Then, having lost also her child, she added two lines:

Today, how far may he have wandered, The brave hunter of dragon-flies!

It talks about 福田千代尼 = Fukuda Chiyo-ni (or [加賀千代女]{かがのちよじょ} = Lady Kaga no Chiyo). She was an Edo era poet who lived 1703 to 1775.

She is said to have married at 18 but quickly lost her husband to disease, as well as having a child which she quickly lost too. However none of this is known for certain. (source)

The original poem in Japanese goes:

Tombo tsuri kyou wa doko made itta yara
Dragonfly hunting. I wonder how far [he] went today (my attempt at a more literal translation)

According to this source, this haiku is attributed to Kaga no Chiyo but it is not certain if she wrote it or even if she was married. It is said to be a haiku about the loss of a child, as you said.

jphaiku.jp discusses this haiku as an example of good haiku writing in conveying emotion through objects or the scenery rather than stating them directly. The site says:



This is a poem honoring the memory of her dead son which can be understood as saying that, "he must have gone far from home hunting dragonflies, I hope he comes back soon..."
Another possible interpretation is that the son is enjoying a fun life hunting dragonflies in Heaven too.

Because Chiyo conveys her emotions through the medium of "dragonfly hunting" rather than simply stating them, the reader can better sympathize with her and more deeply understand and imagine her grief, loneliness, and parental love for her child. (my translation)

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